Private pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS started distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to retirement homes and skilled care facilities such as the Cottages of Lake St. Louis Retirement Center in St. Louis, Mo., in December 2020. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Privately owned retail pharmacies in the United States administered roughly one-third of the COVID-19 vaccine doses given nationally, officials with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores said Wednesday.
And that figure will likely increase as more people receive booster shots and states across the country scale-down government-run vaccination sites, they said.
Of the more than 473 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the United States through Tuesday, at least 181 million were given by pharmacists at 41,000 chain stores, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, that figure is likely higher when state- and local-government programs are included and as more people get booster shots, the association's Sara Roszak said Wednesday on a call with reporters.
Now, roughly two of every three vaccine doses administered across the country are given at chain pharmacies, the organization estimates.
Pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens worked with nursing homes and other similar facilities earlier this year when vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech first became available, said Roszak, the organization's senior vice president for health and wellness strategy and policy.
The goal had been to assist in vaccinating seniors, who are among the most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, she said.
Although that arrangement was reached as vaccines became more widely available officials started to "push" to vaccinate the wider population, Roszak said pharmacies are well-positioned to serve as a key provider of the shots going forward.
"Pharmacy has an opportunity to leverage public health and also augment and participate in it," Roszak said.
"One of the values of the private sector is that it can use infrastructure already in place," as opposed to government-run vaccination sites, which had to be set up once the shots became available, she said.
Licensed pharmacists are cleared under a September 2020 amendment to the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
With just over 60% of the eligible population in the United States fully vaccinated against the virus, federal officials have been recommending booster doses, particularly since the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Through Tuesday, more than 47 million booster shots were administered nationally, with recipients of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines eligible six months after their last jab, the CDC said.
Those given the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine can obtain a booster shot two months afterward.
National Association of Chain Drug Stores member pharmacies estimate that up to 75% of their appointment times for booster doses are available, the organization's president and CEO Steven C. Anderson said on Wednesday's call.
This suggests lower demand, but also highlights the stores' capacity to provide the service, he said.
Demand is expected to increase "as Americans confront this latest variant and plan for holiday travel," he added.
In addition to vaccine distribution, chain pharmacies also established more than 20,000 COVID-19 testing sites, many of which are in "vulnerable communities," such as low-income areas where risk for the virus is high, Roszak said.